pious impudence

I’ve been getting my head into the fourth-century theologian, Gregory of Nazianzus (G-Naz to his friends). He’s the one who blessed the church with the pithy and powerful formulation, ‘the unassumed is the unhealed’ — which so beautifully and forcefully articulates the need for Christ to be fully human, entering completely into our situation, to win our redemption.

One of the other things he spoke about was something he called ‘pious impudence’. Pious impudence is an approach to the God who elects, adopts and sanctifies us that reverently but boldly asks Him to intervene for His glory and our good.

King David wrote many psalms full of pious impudence

David's psalms brim with pious impudence

Here’s an example from Gregory’s oration On His Sister Gorgonia at her funeral. It’s the conclusion to his account of the way a bout of serious illness occasioned a spiritual ‘growth spurt’ for her (Oration VIII.18):

What then did this great soul, worthy offspring of the greatest, and what was the medicine for her disorder, for we have now come to the great secret?  Despairing of all other aid, she betook herself to the Physician of all, and awaiting the silent hours of night, during a slight intermission of the disease, she approached the altar with faith, and, calling upon Him Who is honoured thereon, with a mighty cry, and every kind of invocation, calling to mind all His former works of power, and well she knew those both of ancient and of later days, at last she ventured on an act of pious and splendid effrontery…

Gregory goes on to describe how his sister begged God for healing — and was miraculously answered.

Gob-smacking details aside, it’s important to see how this moment of ‘pious and splendid effrontery’ caps off a sequence in which God is reminded of His ‘former works of power’. God’s intervention isn’t sought cavalierly. Rather, the appeal occurs within the context of a recollection of those events which express God’s character. Yet in faith an impudent appeal is launched, calling upon God to behave like Himself.

Sadly, my pious deference to God’s sovereignty often stymies any honest expression of my needs to Him — let alone a confident expectation that He will intervene for my good!

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